Melody Barnes

Executive Director of the UVA Karsh Institute of Democracy

Fast Facts

  • Director of White House Domestic Policy Council under President Barack Obama
  • Former executive vice president of the Center for American Progress
  • Chief counsel to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy
  • Expertise on democracy, public policy, health policy, civil rights

Areas Of Expertise

  • Domestic Affairs
  • Health
  • Law and Justice
  • Social Issues
  • Economic Issues
  • Leadership
  • Politics
  • The Presidency

Melody Barnes is executive director of the UVA Karsh Institute of Democracy and W.L. Lyons Brown Family Director for Policy and Public Engagement at the Democracy Initiative, an interdisciplinary teaching, research, and engagement effort led by the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences at the University of Virginia. She is the J. Wilson Newman Professor of Governance at the Miller Center and is also a distinguished fellow at the UVA School of Law. A co-founder of the domestic strategy firm MB2 Solutions LLC, Barnes has spent more than 25 years crafting public policy on a wide range of domestic issues. 

During the administration of President Barack Obama, Barnes was assistant to the president and director of the White House Domestic Policy Council. She was also executive vice president for policy at the Center for American Progress and chief counsel to the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Her experience includes an appointment as director of legislative affairs for the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and assistant counsel to the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Civil and Constitutional Rights. Barnes began her career as an attorney with Shearman & Sterling in New York City. 

Barnes earned her BA from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she graduated with honors in history, and her JD from the University of Michigan. She serves on the boards of directors of several corporate, non-profit, and philanthropic organizations.


Melody Barnes News Feed

Melody Barnes, executive director of UVA’s Karsh Institute of Democracy, and John Bridgeland ’87, founder and executive chairman of the Office of American Possibilities, discuss their roles at the White House, how they became partners in several public policy efforts, and what Americans can do to strengthen democratic institutions and work together across differences.
John Bridgeland, Melody Barnes, Risa Goluboff University of Virginia School of Law
Melody Barnes, the J. Wilson Newman professor of governance at the University of Virginia's Miller Center, writes that "a new movement is underway to address hate-fueled violence and affirm the bonds of mutual respect that make self-government possible."
Melody Barnes USA Today
“The Nau Foundation’s extraordinary generosity positions the Karsh Institute for impact on Grounds and beyond the University,” J. Wilson Newman Professor of Governance at the University of Virginia's Miller Center and executive director of the UVA Karsh Institute of Democracy Melody Barnes said. “It enhances our ability to accelerate collaboration among UVA’s world-class schools, centers, faculty and students; develop unique and effective programming; and build meaningful local, state and national partnerships.”
Melody Barnes UVA Today
Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson faced a second day of questioning Wednesday by the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee. Saikrishna Prakash, a University of Virginia law professor and former clerk to Justice Clarence Thomas, and Melody Barnes, executive director of the Karsh Institute of Democracy at the University of Virginia, join Judy Woodruff to discuss.
Melody Barnes PBS NewsHour
LBJ: Triumph and Tragedy is a four-part CNN Original Series that offers a captivating look at one of the most consequential and enigmatic presidents in American history. Thrust into the presidency under tragic circumstances, LBJ used the office to pass the most significant civil rights legislation since Reconstruction. While managing to reshape the social fabric of the nation, he simultaneously escalated one America’s most controversial wars, that subsequently overshadowed his domestic accomplishments. LBJ: Triumph and Tragedy examines the larger-than-life figure full of fascinating contradictions, that left behind a complicated and polarizing legacy.
Melody Barnes CNN
Since 2016, former U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson has been portrayed in two Hollywood films, was the subject of a nationally recognized podcast series and will soon be the reason for a CNN documentary. That’s a lot of fresh content for someone who was last in the Oval Office more than five decades ago. The sudden wave is not surprising to Melody Barnes, the executive director of the Karsh Institute of Democracy at the University of Virginia. Barnes – whose podcast, “LBJ and the Great Society,” was named the ninth-best of its kind by the New Yorker in 2020 – said the complexities of Johnson’s life make him an enticing character for audiences. Also, many of the same issues Johnson fought for while president are once again in the spotlight.
Melody Barnes UVA Today